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How To Perfectly Perform An Elliptical HIIT Workout?

What do you get when you cross a treadmill with a bike? An elliptical machine that seems uncomfortably quick before you begin to manage your push

How To Perfectly Perform An Elliptical HIIT Workout?

What do you get when you cross a treadmill with a bike? An elliptical machine that seems uncomfortably quick before you begin to manage your push and pull. While the elliptical is a staple gym-floor and solid cardio option, it is probably not the first machine you think about when it comes to high-intensity interval (HIIT) training.

But what makes the elliptical a good cardio machine, if you do it right, also makes it great for HIIT workouts. Well, here's how.

The Pros of Working With Elliptical HIIT

One of the elliptical's major advantages is that the bearing is very low-impact and non-weight. That's a huge plus, "says Jonathan Higashi, a NASM-certified personal trainer at Life Time Laguna Niguel in California," for people who have limitations that don't allow them to run or do a high impact HIIT workout.

But fitness queens that just need a break from the repetitive effect of running, or hundreds of burpee and squat jump reps, can also move into the system without sacrificing cardiovascular benefits. The beauty of the elliptical is that to maximize your workout, you can adjust the resistance and incline to help you reach your peak intensities efficiently, says Higashi.

One 2010 study showed you can burn the same number of calories, absorb the same amount of oxygen (a measure of cardiovascular work), and jack your heart rate up to the same rate when you're on the elliptical or treadmill.

Moreover, the elliptical engages your arms in a way that is not done by a stationary bike or stair stepper, making it a total-body workout. Using the machine's arms, "you can selectively shift your focus to using your upper body — including your arms, shoulders, chest, and back — to move the elliptical," says Erika Lee Sperl, Minneapolis, MN's kinesiologist and certified performance enhancement specialist. Calling for more muscles can increase the overall elliptical HIIT workout intensity. (BTW, the rowing machine is also an excellent low-impact, total-body cardio option.)

The Cons of Elliptic HIIT Workouts

HAM's going on this machine has a few drawbacks — and not just the awkwardness that happens when you can't get the machine and your body to flow right together.

"One of the downsides of an elliptical HIIT workout is that you lose your body's potential benefits of adapting and reacting to the impact on your muscles and joints," Higashi says. The impact is critical because it puts more stress on the ankles, knees, hips, and pelvis and the bones that link them, Sperl says. "When properly conducted, in good form, and with moderation, some level of impact is critical to bone health," she explains. 

You're also moving on the elliptical, similar to running in a single plane of motion. "We tend to do much — both in our daily lives and in common exercises — in the sagittal plane (moving back to front)," Sperl says. "Running on various motion planes — like frontal (moving left to right) and transverse (including rotational movements)—helps round out the strength of the body and stave off injuries."

How To Plan A Workout With An Elliptical HIIT?

A quick refresher: A HIIT workout is composed of short periods of intense exercise followed by less intense periods of recovery. "Intensity" can be measured by speed, power output, heart rate, and other variables, but one of the easiest ways to measure it is by ranking your perceived exertion rate (RPE) on a scale from 1 (very easy/small to low) to 10 (extremely difficult/maximum effort), Higashi says. You should be working out at an RPE of nine or ten during your short work periods.

Warm-up: As with any other workout, the warm-up is crucial, especially since you're about to make an all-out effort. "The warm-up will last from eight to 12 minutes anywhere and consist of a gradual rise in intensity so the RPE can hit a seven out of 10 by the end of the warm-up," Higashi says. That means you could have a conversation (but probably wouldn't have), and you probably started breaking a sweat. "That helps increase your body temperature, blood flow, and fat use, which will help you work longer and harder," Higashi explains. Follow the warm-up with a rest time of two to five minutes to prepare your body for the actual workout.

Length: In terms of how long the HIIT workout will last, it should be successful for a total of 10 minutes (not counting the warm-up!), says Sperl. "That can be broken down into intervals for as long as four minutes and as short as five to 10 seconds," Higashi adds.

Intervals: A good place to start when it comes to intervals is with a work-to-rest ratio of 1:1 — i.e. 30 seconds of work, and 30 seconds of rest. But you might want to adjust that ratio, depending on your fitness level. "If you're a beginner, you might need to either reduce the work and increase the rest periods, creating a ratio of 1:2 (i.e. 30 seconds of work followed by a minute's rest)," says Higashi. "If you're looking to challenge yourself, you can choose to do more work with less rest (i.e. one minute of work with 30 seconds of recovery)." (Keep all of this in mind if you take your HIIT workout to the treadmill or track too.)

Rest: So don't miss your rest times or cut them short! "If you really push it and get to a 9-10 RPE during your work intervals, dial it down to 6-7 (or even lower) in the off segments," Sperl says. It gives you time to decrease your heart rate and your body to clear the metabolic by-products — carbon dioxide and lactate — so you can get straight back to the high strength you just smashed.

Elliptical HIIT Workouts

An elliptical HIIT exercise ready to try? Use one of these two workouts below, or use them as a guide to building your own elliptical HIIT workout. The best part: Since they're based off RPE (and not an incline or resistance level) you could easily translate these HIIT workouts to other cardio machines, such as a rower or treadmill, too.

35-Minute Elliptical HIIT Workout

35-Minute Elliptical HIIT Workout
PHOTO: CAITLIN-MARIE MINER ONG

However, you need to adjust the incline and resistance bot to achieve the desired RPE from 1-10 (with a maximum effort of 10).

Warm-up (10 minutes):

  • 2 minutes: RPE of 3
  • 2 minutes: RPE of 4
  • 2 minutes: RPE of 5
  • 2 minutes: RPE of 6
  • 2 minutes: RPE of 7
  • Recovery: 5 minutes, RPE of 3-4

HIIT Workout (20 minutes, work to rest ratio of 1:1):

  • 1 minute: RPE of 9-10 out of 10
  • 1 minute (recovery): RPE of 3-4 out of 10
  • Repeat 10 times

45-Minute Pyramid Elliptical HIIT Workout

45-Minute Pyramid Elliptical HIIT Workout
PHOTO: CAITLIN-MARIE MINER ONG

Through experimenting with the interval timing, you're already working on a 1:1 work-to-rest ratio, but pushing your body to maintain longer 'on' time periods to develop your stamina. (P.S. You can also do the HIIT-style pyramid routine with bodyweight exercises.)

Warm-up (10 minutes):

  • 2 minutes: RPE of 3
  • 2 minutes: RPE of 4
  • 2 minutes: RPE of 5
  • 2 minutes: RPE of 6
  • 2 minutes: RPE of 7
  • Recovery: 5 minutes, RPE of 3-4

HIIT Workout (30 minutes):

  • 1:00 on / 1:00 off
  • 2:00 on / 2:00 off
  • 3:00 on / 3:00 off
  • 4:00 on / 4:00 off
  • 5:00 on / 5:00 off

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YourFitnessRink - Fitness and Health Matters: How To Perfectly Perform An Elliptical HIIT Workout?
How To Perfectly Perform An Elliptical HIIT Workout?
What do you get when you cross a treadmill with a bike? An elliptical machine that seems uncomfortably quick before you begin to manage your push
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